If you are a landlord, then you are all too familiar with the frustration that comes when you find out that the heater has gone out at your rental unit, or that there’s a leak –yet again.If you’re tired of the frustrations that come from dealing with breakdowns, and costly repairs eating into your profits, there’s a solution that you may want to consider: purchasing a home warranty for your rental.
Today, you can buy warranties for almost anything, including homes. Home warranties are particularly popular with landlords, who know all too well that if something can go wrong at a rental, it will. A good home warranty can help a landlord to save a significant amount of money if costly repairs are necessary. It can also help landlords to ensure compliance with state and federal laws.
While home warranties can be invaluable for landlords who are interested in protecting their investment, it’s important to note that not all warranties are created equal. Each warranty is unique in terms of the coverage that it offers, the exclusions, and terms and conditions.
If you’re interested in a home warranty for your rental, there are a few things that you should know before purchasing one. Here’s a brief rundown on what, exactly, a home warranty is, the benefits and disadvantages of getting one, and finally, what you can do to ensure that you choose the best option for your property.
What Is a Home Warranty?
The term ‘home warranty’ is enough to cause some confusion for those who are unfamiliar.
Traditional warranties are a type of guarantee of the quality of a product or service, usually made by the seller or manufacturer to the buyer. Home warranties, though, are not guarantees, but instead, contracts to provide repairs and replacement for home systems and appliances that break down or fail due to normal wear and tear.
Home warranties were first started in 1971 by American Home Shield. The industry has grown considerably since then, and today dozens of companies offer home warranties. A few main players include American Home Shield, Total Protect, SEARS, and First American, as well as HMS Home Warranty and Old Republic Home Protection.
Some people may also confuse home warranties with insurance, but there are some distinct differences between the two. Insurance provides coverage for specific events, such as fire, flooding, and theft; while home warranties cover the components or major appliances in a home against breakdown.
The best way to think of a home warranty is to view it as a home services contract. Home warranties are designed to provide repairs for breakdown or damage to specific home components, as well as replacement if they cannot be repaired.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Home Warranties
Home warranty plans offer a number of advantages for landlords. If something goes wrong, you won’t have to start looking for an electrician or plumber –or rush to the rental to make the repairs yourself. Instead, you can just place a call to the home warranty company, and they’ll send someone out for you. Having a home warranty will also make it easier to budget for expenses and repairs, helping you to avoid being caught out by unexpected issues. You simply budget for the premium and keep some money for the service call fees. No need to worry about forking out hundreds of dollars all at once for a new water heater when the old ones goes out.
However, home warranty plans have some disadvantages too. Just like insurance, you pay for the plan even if you don’t end up using it in the end. Most policies cost a few hundred dollars, usually somewhere between $400-$800 per year. In some cases, it may work out to be more economical to pay for issues as they arise, rather than prepay for potential repairs that may or may not be required. Additionally, most warranty companies will attempt every repair before authorizing a full replacement. Another issue with home warranties is that you run the risk of claims being denied. If the home warranty company considers the breakdown to have been caused by neglect, improper use, or a pre-existing problem, they may choose not to accept the claim. Additionally, some landlords may realize when making a claim that their warranties don’t include coverage for the item in question. Finally, there is also the issue of wait times. Sometimes repairs can be delayed during high-demand seasons.
Most home warranties usually include the following:
- Built-in microwave
- Garbage disposal
- Electrical system
- Washing machine and dryer
- Ceiling fans
- Water heater
- Garage door opener
While more premium warranties may also include coverage for:
- Sump pump
- Ice maker
- Stand-alone freezer
- Well pump
- Lawn sprinklers
- Plumbing fixtures
- Lighting fixtures
- Roof repairs
- Septic systems
- Water filters
Things that are not usually covered include:
- Structural issues
- Problems that are the result of neglected maintenance
- Damage caused by frozen pipes
- Outdoor repairs
- Permit fees
- Disposal fee for old appliances
- Improper installation
- Mismatched systems
- Pre-existing problems
- Anything that’s outside of normal wear and tear
As always, the list of what is and isn’t covered will vary considerably from company to company so be sure to ask for a list of things that are covered when weighing up different options.
Tips for Selecting a Home Warranty
To be sure, having a home warranty can provide you with peace of mind if things go wrong, writes Anthony Giorgianni of Consumer Reports, “But you should also realize that the providers of these plans have built-in wiggle room that can make it easier for them not to make payments. As a result, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Better Business Bureau about their plans, often because they didn’t get the payouts they expected.”
To ensure that you find the best warranty for your needs, and to help prevent disappointment when it comes time to make a claim, you’ll want to make sure you understand exactly what’s included in your home warranty, and have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions.
With this in mind let’s take a look at how you can ensure that you find a home warranty that’s a good fit for you and your rental property. As always, being informed is key to ensuring that you make the best decision possible, and will help you to choose a warranty that’s right for you.
Read the Fine Print to See What’s Covered
When considering a home warranty, it’s important to read the fine print. Each home warranty is different, with their own set of particular inclusions, exclusions, and conditions. For example, some warranties will not cover washing machine repair, even if you opt for appliance coverage. Some, that claim to cover plumbing, may not cover common parts that often go out, such as faucets, but instead will only provide coverage for the pipes that are in the walls. Before signing up for a warranty program, make sure you take the time to read the contract carefully so that you fully understand what’s covered, and what isn’t.
Check online reviews
Next, you’ll want to ensure that you’re buying from a reputable company. Before signing an agreement, have a look at the Better Business Bureau and online review sites to see what people are saying; and to find out what their rating is.
Find Out How the Warranty Company Selects their Contractors
Another important consideration is how the company selects their contractors. Are they vetted in any way? How do they ensure they are qualified? How long have their vendors been working with them? Will they be able to guarantee that the work will be completed in a timely manner? You should also ask what happens if a vendor doesn’t meet your expectations. A reputable home warranty company should allow you to request that subpar vendors not be used for future call-outs.
Find Out What the Waiting Period Is
You’ll also want to keep in mind that most home warranties also include a waiting period between the date that you sign up, and when you can actually begin to use the service. Usually, this period is anywhere between 30-90 days.
See If the Company Will Work With Property Management Companies
If you have a property manager overseeing your property or plan to enlist the services of one at some point in the future, you’ll want to check with the home warranty company to see if they work with property management companies. Some companies will allow the landlord to keep a credit card on file to cover service call fees. Others, however, require payment from the tenant when the technician arrives –something that could lead to potential problems and complications.
See What the Service Fee Is
The service fee or call out fee is the flat rate that you’ll pay out-of-pocket for repairs. Similar to a deductible on an insurance policy, most service fees range between $75 and $125 per claim. In some cases, you’ll have the option to pay a higher service fee for a lower monthly payment.
See What the Limits of Liability Are
Most home warranties have a limit on the amount of money that they will pay out in a year. In some cases, the company may assign a specific limit to each item. For instance, if they have a $400 annual limit on dryers, it will only pay up to $400 each year for the dryer to be repaired or replaced. According to Reviews.com, half of the 17 home warranty companies that were analysed cap their coverage at $500. Limits can make or break a warranty, so be sure to find out where your coverage will be capped before making your decision.
Ask About the Recall Period
Often home warranty companies will provide what’s known as a “workmanship guarantee” for any repairs performed by one of their contractors. This means that if anything goes wrong with the repair or installation during a specific amount of time after the work was done, the home warranty company will repair it at no additional charge to you.
Ensure that the Coverage Is Right for Your Property
When purchasing a home warranty policy, you’ll want to make sure that it’s the right one for the property. You can choose warranties that include various degrees of coverage, including ones that cover the rental’s major systems such as electrical and plumbing, as well as a more premium plan that extends to cover appliances. You’ll also want to consider the age of the property when making your decision. While newer properties that are less than ten years old, most of the appliances will already be covered by manufacturers’ warranties, so there may not be a need for an extensive warranty. Additionally, “Many states require the builder to repair defects in materials and workmanship for a few years – typically two to 10 years,” writes Don Vandervort, founder of Home Tips. For older properties, though, it may make more sense to purchase more extensive coverage.
If you’re on the fence about a home warranty, be sure to consider the pros and cons of coverage to see if it’s something that you could benefit from. Remember, plans vary considerably, so if you’re not happy with a quote that you received from one company, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount as well –some companies may be willing to negotiate.
Having an emergency fund to cover unexpended costs could stand in for a warranty. But you’ll want to honestly assess whether you’re disciplined enough to set aside a certain amount of money each month for emergency repairs. For landlords who would like to have as much coverage as possible, or who may not be able to commit to putting $100 in a repairs account each month, having a home warranty may be an ideal solution. Some landlords find that warranties are especially helpful in the beginning, until they’ve had time to build up some reserves. Other long-distance landlords use warranties to reduce some of the stress and hassle of having to coordinate repairs from afar.
No matter which way you’re leaning, at the end of the day you’ll want to ensure that you make a decision that will benefit both you and your property, so have a look to see what’s out there before making your final decision.